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The Settlers in Canada
Chapter XXIX John Shoots an Indian


Once more was the ground covered with snow to the depth of three feet. The cattle were littered down inside the enclosure of palisades round the cow-house; the sheep were driven into the inclosed sheep-fold, and the horses were put into a portion of the barn in the sheep-fold which had been parted off for them. All was made secure, and every preparation made for the long winter. Although there had been a fall of snow, the severe frost had not yet come on. It did, however, in about a fortnight afterwards, and then, according to the wishes of the Colonel, six oxen were killed for the use of the fort, and taken there by the horses on a sledge; this was the last task that they had to fulfil, and then Alfred bade adieu to the officers of the fort, as they did not expect to meet again till the winter was over. Having experienced one winter, they were more fully prepared for the second; and as Malachi, the Strawberry, and John were now regular inmates of the house (for they did not keep a separate table), there was a greater feeling of security, and the monotony and dreariness were not so great as in the preceding winter; moreover, everything was now in its place, and they had more to attend to—two circumstances which greatly contributed to relieve the ennui arising from continual confinement. The hunting-parties went out as usual; only Henry, and occasionally Alfred, remained at home to attend to the stock, and to perform other offices which the increase of their establishment required. The new books brought by Henry from Montreal, and which by common consent had been laid aside for the winter evenings, were now a great source of amusement, as Mr Campbell read aloud a portion of them every evening. Time passed away quickly, as it always does when there is a regular routine of duties and employment, and Christmas came before they were aware of its approach.

It was a great comfort to Mrs Campbell that she now always had John at home, except when he was out hunting, and on that score she had long dismissed all anxiety, as she had full confidence in Malachi; but latterly Malachi and John seldom went out alone—indeed, the old man appeared to like being in company, and his misanthropy had entirely disappeared. He now invariably spent his evenings with the family assembled round the kitchen fire, and had become much more fond of hearing his own voice. John did not so much admire these evening parties. He cared nothing for new books, or indeed any books. He would amuse himself making mocassins, or working porcupine-quills with the Strawberry at one corner of the fire, and the others might talk or read, it was all the same, John never said a word, or appeared to pay the least attention to what was said. His father occasionally tried to make him learn something, but it was useless. He would remain for hours with his book before him, but his mind was elsewhere. Mr Campbell, therefore, gave up the attempt for the present, indulging the hope that when John was older he would be more aware of the advantages of education, and would become more attentive. At present, it was only inflicting pain on the boy without any advantage being gained. But John did not always sit by the kitchen fire. The wolves were much more numerous than in the preceding winter, having been attracted by the sheep which were within the palisade, and every night the howling was incessant. The howl of a wolf was sufficient to make John seize his rifle and leave the house, and he would remain in the snow for hours till one came sufficiently near for him to fire at, and he had already killed several when a circumstance occurred which was the cause of great uneasiness.

John was out one evening as usual, crouched down within the palisades, and watching for the wolves. It was a bright starry night, but there was no moon, when he perceived one of the animals crawling along almost on its belly, close to the door of the palisade which surrounded the house. This surprised him, as, generally speaking, the animals prowled round the palisade which encircled the sheep-fold, or else close to the pigsties which were at the opposite side from the entrance door. John levelled his rifle and fired, when, to his astonishment, the wolf appeared to spring up on his hind legs, then fall down and roll away. The key of the palisade door was always kept within, and John determined to go in and fetch it, that he might ascertain whether he had killed the animal or not. When he entered Malachi said, “Did you kill, my boy?”

“Don’t know,” replied John; “come for the key to see.”

“I don’t like the gate being opened at night, John,” said Mr Campbell; “why don’t you leave it, as you usually do, till to-morrow morning; that will be time enough?”

“I don’t know if it was a wolf,” replied John.

“What, then, boy? tell me,” said Malachi.

“Well, I think it was an Indian,” replied John; who then explained what had passed.

“Well, I shouldn’t wonder,” replied Malachi; “at all events the gate must not be opened to-night, for if it was an Indian you fired at, there is more than one of them; we’ll keep all fast, John, and see what it was to-morrow.”

Mrs Campbell and the girls were much alarmed at this event, and it was with difficulty that they were persuaded to retire to rest.

“We will keep watch to-night at all events,” said Malachi, as soon as Mrs Campbell and her nieces had left the room.

“The boy is right, I have no doubt. It is the Angry Snake and his party who are prowling about, but if the boy has hit the Indian, which I have no doubt of, they will make off; however, it will be just as well to be on our guard, nevertheless. Martin can watch here, and I will watch in the fold.”

We have before observed that the lodge of Malachi, Martin, and his wife, was built within the palisade of the sheep-fold, and that there was a passage from the palisade round the house to that which surrounded the sheep-fold, which passage had also a palisade on each side of it.

“I will watch here,” said Alfred; “let Martin go home with you and his wife.”

“I will watch with you,” said John.

“Well, perhaps that will be better,” said Malachi; “two rifles are better than one, and if any assistance is required there will be one to send for it.”

“But what do you think they would do, Malachi?” said Mr Campbell; “they cannot climb the palisades.”

“Not well, sir, nor do I think they would attempt it unless they had a large force, which I am sure they have not; no, sir, they would rather endeavour to set fire to the house if they could, but that’s not so easy; one thing is certain, that the Snake will try all he can to get possession of what he saw in your store-house.”

“That I do not doubt,” said Alfred; “but he will not find it quite so easy a matter.”

“They’ve been reconnoitring, sir, that’s the truth of it, and if John has helped one of them to a bit of lead, it will do good; for it will prove to them that we are on the alert, and make them careful how they come near the house again.”

After a few minutes’ more conversation, Mr Campbell, Henry, and Percival retired, leaving the others to watch. Alfred walked home with Malachi and his party to see if all was right at the sheep-fold, and then returned.

The night passed without any further disturbance except the howling of the wolves, to which they were accustomed.

The next morning, at daybreak, Malachi and Martin came to the house, and, with John and Alfred, they opened the palisade gate, and went out to survey the spot where John had fired.

“Yes, sir,” said Malachi; “it was an Indian, no doubt of it; here are the dents made in the snow by his knees as he crawled along, and John has hit him, for here is the blood. Let’s follow the trail. See, sir, he has been hard hit; there is more blood this way as we go on. Ha!” continued Malachi, as he passed by a mound of snow, “here’s the wolf-skin he was covered up with; then he is dead or thereabouts, and they have carried him off, for he never would have parted with his skin, if he had had his senses about him.”

“Yes,” observed Martin, “his wound was mortal, that’s certain.”

They pursued the track till they arrived at the forest, and then, satisfied by the marks on the snow that the wounded man had been carried away, they returned to the house, when they found the rest of the family dressed and in the kitchen. Alfred shewed them the skin of the wolf, and informed them of what they had discovered.

“I am grieved that blood has been shed,” observed Mrs Campbell; “I wish it had not happened. I have heard that the Indians never forgive on such occasions.”

“Why, ma’am, they are very revengeful, that’s certain, but still they won’t like to risk too much. This has been a lesson to them. I only wish it had been the Angry Snake himself who was settled, as then we should have no more trouble or anxiety about them.”

“Perhaps it may be,” said Alfred.

“No, sir, that’s not likely; it’s one of his young men; I know the Indian customs well.”

It was some time before the alarm occasioned by this event subsided in the mind of Mrs Campbell and her nieces; Mr Campbell also thought much about it, and betrayed occasional anxiety. The parties went out hunting as before, but those at home now felt anxious till their return from the chase. Time, however, and not hearing anything more of the Indians, gradually revived their courage, and before the winter was half over they thought little about it. Indeed, it had been ascertained by Malachi from another band of Indians which he fell in with near a small lake where they were trapping beaver, that the Angry Snake was not in that part of the country, but had gone with his band to the westward at the commencement of the new year. This satisfied them that the enemy had left immediately after the attempt which he had made to reconnoitre the premises.

The hunting-parties, therefore, as we said, continued as before; indeed, they were necessary for the supply of so many mouths. Percival, who had grown very much since his residence in Canada, was very anxious to be permitted to join them, which he never had been during the former winter. This was very natural. He saw his younger brother go out almost daily, and seldom return without having been successful; indeed, John was, next to Malachi, the best shot of the party. It was, therefore, very annoying to Percival that he should always be detained at home doing all the drudgery of the house, such as feeding the pigs, cleaning knives, and other menial work, while his younger brother was doing the duty of a man. To Percival’s repeated entreaties, objections were constantly raised by his mother; they could not spare him, he was not accustomed to walk in snow-shoes.

Mr Campbell observed that Percival became dissatisfied and unhappy, and Alfred took his part and pleaded for him. Alfred observed very truly that the Strawberry could occasionally do Percival’s work, and that if it could be avoided, he should not be cooped up at home in the way that he was; and, Mr Campbell agreeing with Alfred, Mrs Campbell very reluctantly gave her consent to his occasionally going out.

“Why, aunt, have you such an objection to Percival going out with the hunters?” said Mary. “It must be very trying to him to be always detained at home.”

“I feel the truth of what you say, my dear Mary,” said Mrs Campbell, “and I assure you it is not out of selfishness, or because we shall have more work to do, that I wish him to remain with us; but I have an instinctive dread that some accident will happen to him, which I cannot overcome, and there is no arguing with a mother’s fears and a mother’s love.”

“You were quite as uneasy, my dear aunt, when John first went out; you were continually in alarm about him, but now you are perfectly at ease,” replied Emma.

“Very true,” said Mrs Campbell; “it is, perhaps, a weakness on my part which I ought to get over; but we are all liable to such feelings. I trust in God there is no real cause for apprehension, and that my reluctance is a mere weakness and folly. But I see the poor boy has long pined at being kept at home; for nothing is more irksome to a high-couraged and spirited boy as he is. I have, therefore, given my consent, because I think it is my duty; still the feeling remains, so let us say no more about it, my dear girls, for the subject is painful to me.”

“My dear aunt, did you not say that you would talk to Strawberry on the subject of religion, and try if you could not persuade her to become a Christian? She is very serious at prayers, I observe; and appears, now that she understands English, to be very attentive to what is said.”

“Yes, my dear Emma, it is my intention so to do very soon, but I do not like to be in too great a hurry. A mere conforming to the usages of our religion would be of little avail, and I fear that too many of our good missionaries, in their anxiety to make converts, do not sufficiently consider this point. Religion must proceed from conviction, and be seated in the heart; the heart, indeed, must be changed, not mere outward form attended to.”

“What is the religion of the Indians, my dear aunt?” said Mary.

“One which makes conversion the more difficult. It is in many respects so near what is right, that Indians do not easily perceive the necessity of change. They believe in one God, the Fountain of all good; they believe in a future state and in future rewards and punishments. You perceive they have the same foundation as we have, although they know not Christ; and, having very incomplete notions of duty, have a very insufficient sense of their manifold transgressions and offences in God’s sight, and consequently have no idea of the necessity of a mediator. Now it is, perhaps, easier to convince those who are entirely wrong, such as worship idols and false gods, than those who approach so nearly to the truth. But I have had many hours of reflection upon the proper course to pursue, and I do intend to have some conversation with her on the subject in a very short time. I have delayed because I consider it absolutely necessary that she should be perfectly aware of what I say before I try to alter her belief. Now, the Indian language, although quite sufficient for Indian wants, is poor, and has not the same copiousness as ours, because they do not require the words to explain what we term abstract ideas. It is, therefore, impossible to explain the mysteries of our holy religion to one who does not well understand our language. I think, however, that the Strawberry now begins to comprehend sufficiently for me to make the first attempt. I say first attempt, because I have no idea of making a convert in a week, or a month, or even in six months. All I can do is to exert my best abilities, and then trust to God, who, in His own good time, will enlighten her mind to receive His truth.”

The next day the hunting party went out, and Percival, to his great delight, was permitted to accompany it. As they had a long way to go—for they had selected the hunting ground—they set off early in the morning, before daylight, Mr Campbell having particularly requested that they would not return home late.


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